By Taylor Doyle
Seven months ago, I would have told you I had lost myself. In the receding shadow of a ‘global phenomenon’ (that shall remain nameless) we could finally return to travel. So I decided to take what turned into a six-month break from life, journeying to Canada, the UK and Ireland, and New Zealand.
This isn’t a story about ‘finding myself’ but returning to my ‘true self’.
The Tipping Point – Canada
March 2023. I pulled over while driving to work, overcome with grief. The kind of grief that makes you cry out loud, the kind you are only comfortable to express when you’re alone without fear of interruption or judgment. Everyone was driving past too fast to notice me.
I am not a crier by nature. But then again, we all have our limits.
On one hand, I had graduated with my Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing four months ago and had been unsuccessful in getting an industry-related profession. So I chose an unrelated job I wasn’t entirely interested in and gave me a two-hour commute each way. Why was I putting myself through this?
And on the other, I had recently met with my bank to see where I stood in obtaining a home loan, only to be told that as a single person, I would never earn enough to obtain one.
The societal pressures of ‘get a graduate job’, ‘get a house’ and ‘get a partner’ were all screaming for my attention, while my subconsciousness told me I had failed at every single one of them.
As I sat in my car trying to calm myself, it became clear I was grieving for myself. That a part of me had gotten lost somewhere along the way. I was ashamed of who I had become. Uncertain and afraid.
I spoke with Gran, who did not know the solution to a problem I couldn’t even identify myself. But she could sense all that time in lockdown may have shaken my confidence. She knew I never used to care about ticking society’s boxes. She knew I needed a break. So she suggested I join her in a month to sail in Canada and see her son (and my Uncle).
I thought it was absurd at first, thinking: ‘I can’t just go on leave for a month with less than a month’s notice!’ But she replied: ‘Why not?’
Why not? Awoke something within me I had not felt in years. A flicker of confidence. A sense of adventure.
Before I knew it, I was learning to sail from my Uncle through the islands of British Columbia, embracing the sea’s mercy in the Strait of Georgia. The boat heeled over to what felt like a forty-five-degree angle, the push of the wind in the sails forcing me to use all my strength to keep the helm level and heading straight. The three of us were all surrounded by the world’s natural beauty; the sea, and fresh air, leaving the troubles of reality behind us. No one knew where we were. We had no phone service, no wifi and it was pure bliss. It is something I implore everyone to experience at least once in their lives.
In the afternoons, my uncle and I would go hiking on the islands, and in the early evenings, the three of us would sit in each other’s company reading our books. One night my Gran asked for my attention as she read a passage that I think perfectly described what we were experiencing better than I ever could:
Until then I hadn’t really paid attention, . . . hadn’t even known how fresh and alive the world could be until we were moving through it at eleven and a half knots an hour. Which by any other measure would be slow. But here, in the Real World, it was fast. And yet there was also the opposite of fast, the rare intimacy we’d begun to have with the wild landscape, and with one another.Uncharted: A Couple’s Epic Empty-Nest Adventure Sailing from One Life to Another by Kim Brown Seely
Flying Solo – England, Scotland & Ireland
By May, I was back home feeling more restless than before. Having decided to resign from my job, I was free to house-sit for a friend. Sitting alone in someone else’s living room with nowhere to go, I thought about what I could do with my time.
The idea of a solo road trip through the UK and Ireland took form.
Travelling solo meant I could make all the decisions; I didn’t have to follow the crowds or the schedule of a tour group. I could get up early and see the empty streets in York at sunrise, have Edinburgh Castle to myself just as it opened or spend two hours wandering through Sherwood Forest (because I could).
But I had one concern: could I put up with myself for a whole month?
Yet although I was alone, I never felt lonely. For someone would always cross my path.
I was walking up the Dingle Peninsula, towards what looked like an old medieval watchtower. As I approached the structure, an elderly Irish gentleman walking his dog said, ‘Good afternoon’. As I repeated the sentiment back to him, the man stopped upon hearing my Australian accent so far from home. He welcomed me to his part of the country where not many dare venture. I asked him about the tower. ‘It’s called Hussey’s Folly and was built for no purpose other than to employ those who needed it.’
The man shared my pleasure of solitude and nature and spoke for over half an hour before he said: ‘Understand your desire to leave a place, for once you do, only then do you realise what you have left behind.’ He offered his hand in farewell as if we would meet again the next morning. We never learnt each other’s names.
While in Linlithgow, Scotland, I stopped to get lunch at an Italian restaurant that had just opened. I was the first customer, the owner himself greeted me as ‘Bella’ and ‘Señorita’, yet didn’t seem to be Italian or Spanish. I asked him where he was from. ‘Istanbul,’ he said. I told him I had visited and admired his home. He assumed I was a traveller and inquired about my current adventure. He marvelled at my bravery to travel alone and was joyfully envious of my freedom.
I asked him what he was doing in Scotland. ‘I married a beautiful Scottish woman, but we divorced.’ I asked him why he didn’t return home. He said he could not. ‘Although I am no longer married to the woman I love, I am married to the business we risked everything for. Now alone, I must work twelve-hour days, seven days a week, so enjoy your freedom while you have it.’ He offered me an espresso and asked if he could join me with his cup. He said he appreciated that I took my time to speak to him for he has little time for socialising. He described us sitting there as if we were old friends catching up for coffee after spending time apart.
When I arrived home, it was strange that one month of adventure could be summarised into a photo slideshow I showed my family. But none of the pictures hold the faces of the strangers that coloured my travels. I will never see them again, or know their names, but I will remember them, and I cherish these memories that are mine and mine alone.
How powerful it could be, sharing these moments . . . you begin to recognize there is flow everywhere in the natural world—that the deep channels are actually tracks left by glaciers that moved really, really slowly, . . . and you also come to realize that this same flow is in each of us. It is centering and empowering.Uncharted: A Couple’s Epic Empty-Nest Adventure Sailing from One Life to Another by Kim Brown Seely
Wandering Middle Earth – New Zealand
It has been four years since I was supposed to depart for New Zealand and the Hobbiton Movie Set thanks to lock down. Ironically, this was the only trip I was supposed to take this year, yet after all my other adventures I will admit I kept forgetting about it.
But I will never forget walking through the rolling hills covered in the alternating coloured, round wooden doors of the hobbit holes. As I passed each little house, I noticed that each had its own characteristics, garden, and insights into the hobbit who lived there: the cheesemaker, beekeeper, fisherman etc.
And of course, there was Bag End. The green door was slightly ajar with the sign: ‘No admission, except on party business’ nailed to the gate and a little bench out front with Bilbo’s pipe still resting on it, like he had just left to go to the Party Tree for his hundred and eleventy-first birthday.
Our tour guide asked for a volunteer to re-enact Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit running through the Shire yelling: ‘I’m going on an adventure!’. I must’ve gasped out loud because I was pushed to the front of the crowd of fans waiting expectantly.
I only paused uncertainly for a second before running and yelling my line (and praying I wouldn’t trip over). Thankfully, applause filled the air and embarrassment never crossed my mind.
We made our way down the hill, passed the Party Tree, went over the bridge and by the Old Mill just as Frodo and Gandalf had in the wizard horse-drawn cart, before we arrived at The Green Dragon Inn for our banquet.
As everyone was eating, I made my way back outside to watch the lanterns glimmer in the reflection on the lake, listening to the Old Mill’s waterwheel turn with the music from the Inn piping in the distance. Alone and undisturbed I watched the last of the sun fall behind Bag End.
I could feel the time of my freedom coming to an end. In a few short weeks the world will try to awake me from my dream and return me to reality. I took a sip from my ale mug and smiled.
Not yet. I have other corners of Middle Earth to explore.
The world’s remaining beauty and humanity is . . . what comforts us, what allows us to breathe a little easier, are moments like these, when every so often we allow ourselves time to contemplate, briefly, just being here. Now.Uncharted: A Couple’s Epic Empty-Nest Adventure Sailing from One Life to Another by Kim Brown Seely
You can find part I, A Glimpse into My Travels and Journey of Self-Discovery on the MZ Blog.
Taylor Doyle graduated with her Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing at the University of Melbourne in December 2022. She has travelled to almost thirty countries, is an old soul, and hopes to one day be a published author. In the meantime, her writing journey is documented on her Instagram page @taylorwrites_.
Cover image of Taylor Doyle taken by Isabelle Nesbit. All other images taken by Taylor Doyle.